SMITHVILLE — Before, Smithville Middle School’s Lego League included sixth- through eighth-graders only. This year, in an effort to get students excited to be involved when they reach the middle school, fifth-graders are now participating in the club.

“We thought with the elementary configuration and the sixth grade being moved out of the middle school, we decided to open it up to fifth and sixth grade because the sixth-graders were no longer in this building,” co-sponsor of the club Audra Baber said.

Between 20 and 30 students have joined the club, which is divided into three teams. Each team can have a maximum of 10 people, and the students are expected to do a few different things.

“The challenge is getting the robot to work,” Ann Young, 11, said. “To have it functioning the way we want it to.”

Competition requires the students to build a robot that can accomplish a pre-determined mission This year’s theme is Into Orbit.

“There is one (challenge) you have to do, it’s a little rocket that you have to shoot up and get it to stay up there. It’s going to be the most difficult because you have to hit it hard enough to launch it up there,” Jackson Sharpe, 13, said.

The students get more points for each task they are able to complete, and if the rocket balances on the platform, it is worth more points.

“It is fun rising to the challenge,” Henry Sharpe, 13, said.

The Sharpe twins have been participating in Lego League for three years, and both say building the robot is the most fun part. The boys also agreed the biggest challenge they face this year is getting all the information they need with two fewer weeks of time due to a later start to the school year.

Baber said the competition requires the students to create a core values poster and to research and present a real-world problem and solution that applies to the theme.

“They will have a presentation board and have to speak in front of judges and present their problem and solution,” she said. “Students have thought about human waste, entertainment, mental health, what they eat, what happens to them physically ....”

Baber said students will also need to be prepared to explain their thought processes. It is better to explain why you did not include something, the club co-sponsor said, than to appear as if you don’t know.

In an effort to keep the students focused, Baber said she is creating a web-based document that is colorful and organized with hyperlinks. It will list online sources students can explore. She is also checking out books from the library and searching for a professional to come speak to the students about the field.

“I’m in the process of contacting NASA to see if we could Skype with an astronaut,” Baber said.

If that does not work out, Baber would be happy to have a psychologist, someone in the mental health field or an aerospace engineer Skype with the students.

She said it was good for the students to get a real-world perspective.

“A lot of these kids are probably going to end up in engineering jobs,” she said.

Education Editor

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